News / Asia

Rare Earths Sources Court Japan

As Japanese industries reel from Chinese export restrictions on rare earth metals, alternative sources are moving in to fill the gap.

In 2005, Japanese industries asked Yasushi Watanabe, a geologist at the Geological Survey of Japan, to find new sources of rare earths - metals that are used in products from computer hard disk drives to hybrid car batteries.

China for years has supplied most of Japan's rare earths. Watanabe's job has been to help assess the quality of deposits and the viability of mining them in countries outside China. In recent years, the Japanese government and large Japanese companies have entered joint ventures to explore for and mine these metals all over the world - in Vietnam, India, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Australia and the United States.

Still, when China curbed rare earths exports to Japan in September following a territorial dispute, Japanese industries had to scramble.

"It was a big mistake. Last year, due to the economic depression Japanese companies didn't buy enough amounts of rare earths from China. In future, we will not repeat such failure again," Watanabe said.

At a rare earth conference this week in Hong Kong, organized by Metal Events and Roskill Information Services, miners from Greenland, Australia, the U.S., South Africa, Turkey and other nations reached out to the Japanese.

Japan's high-tech industries need about 30,000 tons of the metals this year, and the need is expected to grow in the next two years, partly because of the demand for hybrid cars.

Ahmet Arda, managing director of AMR Resources, says his company has accelerated the production of rare earths in southern Turkey to take advantage of the shortage.

"It's a reality everybody wakes up to. We wanted to bring that production forward and we are looking for strategic partners, somebody who is interested in rare earths," Arda states, "This can be Honda, Mitsubishi, Siemens, Bosch."

Watanabe, who is also a group leader at Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, says Japan is developing technology to improve recycling of some rare earths from discarded electronic products. And it is seeking substitutes for rare earth components.

He says in two years Japan will find its own steady supply of rare earths.

"I think this year and next year would be very hard for Japan, but from 2012, this will change because we have our own supply sources and two major deposits Mountain Pass and Mount Weld in the U.S. and Australia will start producing rare earths. Now stable supply is more important than the price. Even if the price is somewhat higher than Chinese products, probably Japanese companies would buy from those mines outside China," Watanabe said.

Rare earth minerals are difficult and expensive to mine. And like most mining activities, doing so results in environmental damage, particularly because the ores from which these metals are extracted can be radioactive. Chinese mines have produced rare earths at a much lower cost, forcing competitors to shut down in recent years and creating a near monopoly.

Germany and the United States are among the countries that have expressed concern about China's decision to cut rare earth exports. Both countries have industries that need the minerals.

The rare earths issue may figure in the strategic agenda for the leaders of Japan and the United States in their summit later this week on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Yokohama, Japan.

China denies it is using rare earths as a diplomatic leverage against Japan and defended its export controls as a step toward more sustainable mining and protecting its environment.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs